Every summer, Instagram seems to be awash with talk of the mysterious “beach bod”, where everyone suddenly vows to adopt a healthy lifestyle and get abs – all so that they can bring out their bikinis and strut around on the golden sands with pride, earning the (perceived or real) admiration of their fellow beachgoers.
But this summer has been rather different, to say the least. Facing this third wave of COVID-19, everyone has been confined within the four walls of their homes. Beaches, restaurants and even streets are out of bounds. Since you and your family are probably the only ones who will be seeing your own body this summer (or what’s left of it), no one needs a summer bod, right?
But it is undeniably the case that a healthier “summer bod”—reducing our body fat percentage sustainably and healthily—is beneficial, helping us feel more energised, stronger and happier. Toning up may be a good idea for most of us, especially as spending time at home has led to highly sedentary lifestyles.
The key to fat loss is to run a deficit on our Total Daily Energy Expenditure. It is the energy that our bodies need to function for an entire day, as we work, exercise, eat and sleep.
But first, a crucial distinction: fat loss is not weight loss. Weight is a bad indicator of whether we are getting leaner or stronger because of how muscle is heavier than fat. Hence, a body that is putting on weight may be a body which is But doing this with a healthy mindset is important - and thus fat loss must not be confused with weight loss. A decrease in one’s weight does not mean that one is losing fat or running a deficit on our TDEE. On the contrary, as muscle is heavier than fat, weight gain due to increase in muscle mass could actually coexist with fat loss, resulting in a more muscly and lean appearance.
So what is the best way to run a deficit? If you don’t want to starve yourself on an extreme diet, exercise is probably the best way to increase your metabolism and muscle mass. This not only increases the calories your body burns during exercise, but also during rest, i.e. when you’re working, sitting down, or even just sleeping.
Running a slight deficit may also mean that you are hungrier than usual. Hence, consuming whole, unprocessed foods means your body will digest the food for longer, so that your blood sugar will not rise and suddenly crash one hour after the food has been consumed, ensuring the feeling of fullness will stay for longer. As to the breakdown of carbs, protein and fat in one’s diet, the exact proportions will be different depending on how different bodies respond to food. Carbs may have been seen as the enemy these few years, but when consumed reasonably—i.e. to around 80% fullness—even white rice can be conducive to good health, as long as eaten with a variety of other nutritious foods. The Japanese are a case in point. Different bodies also respond differently to various food groups; some people may get bloated after eating unrefined carbs, while others may feel sluggish after consuming dairy. Picking up on our body's reactions is key to finding our optimal way of eating – that makes us feel the most comfortable and energised. So just because all your favourite influencers are hopping on the keto or high fat diet train doesn't mean that you should too!
Finally, getting enough sleep is the third crucial ingredient, yet often the most overlooked in our busy lives. Sleep deprivation can have adverse biological effects. One is that it increases the stress hormone (cortisol), dampening our moods and making us more likely to indulge in emotional eating. But it also increases hunger hormones (ghrelin) and decreases satiety hormones (leptin), meaning that we are less aware of when we are actually full and encourages us to eat more than what would be comfortable.
Having said all of that, the most important thing to remember is that if you feel good physically and mentally—leaping out of bed filled with energy every day, performing well in workouts, feeling satisfied but not stuffed after meals—the feeling that corresponds to that is the definition of health, and whatever the measurements say come secondary to that. We deserve to take care of ourselves first and foremost, not torture ourselves to get to a specific metric in the name of “health”, especially when we are facing challenges in all other areas of your life. So get moving, eat well and take care, everyone! <3
Image credits: @b_andstore